KNOWN for his witty commentaries, seasoned AM radio broadcaster Gerry Baja believes that it is his destiny to be a broadcast journalist. He knows this because even if delivering the news and dissecting national issues on air was never in his life plans, he faithfully finds himself doing so day in and day out.
Baja is the voice that delivers the news to millions of listeners across the country over dzMM, literally at sunrise and sundown. He goes on air with Garantisadong Balita at 5 a.m. every day, with a return engagement every 5:30 p.m. as one-half of the program Dos por Dos with co-anchor Anthony Taberna.
“I actually dreamt of becoming an ECE [Electronic Communications Engineering] graduate, but my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a five-year course in college,” Baja recalled with a good-natured laugh in this one-on-one interview with The Sunday Times Magazine. “So I settled for an Electronics Technology course in the Bulacan College of Arts and Trades, now Bulacan State University.”
The second to the youngest son of an Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) minister, Felipe Baja and his wife Aurora Baja (both deceased), the popular radio personality can now joke about his humble yet difficult beginnings as a young man.
“Would you believe that I was able to finish that two-year course without buying an electronic multitester, the basic tool of an electrician? I found out it cost P500 only when I finally came here to Manila,” Baja related.
“I finished that two-year course with my OJT [on-the-job training] at Sony in Valenzuela and ABS-CBN.”
Indeed, the man’s earliest memories of working at the country’s biggest media conglomerate is not speaking in front of a microphone, but holding a pair of pliers and dealing with wires around the studios.
Baja now fondly remembers being among the electricians who pulled out the cables of the TV station during its renovation following the 1986 People Power Revolution. As he went about his job description, little by little, Baja found himself surrounded by the exciting environment of radio and television, he somehow developed a passion for the news and went for it.
Upon the advise of his eldest brother Ferdie who was a news reporter at People’s Journal, Baja, after being exposed to the broadcast industry as an electrician in ABS-CBN, he agreed to enroll at Lyceum of the Philippines to take up Mass Communications. He had to continue working on the side to finance his studies of course, but he was very willing to do so.
He gathered up the courage to apply at Radio dzEC of Eagle Broadcasting Corp. (EBC) as a part time news writer in October 1989 while still a student at Lyceum.
“On my first day, I was asked to translate and write news articles in Filipino in broadcast form from a daily newspaper. Since I don’t have any experience in news writing, when the editor returned the paper to me, it was full of red marks and corrections. From that time on, that piece of paper became my template in writing broadcast news,” Baja imparted.
With perseverance, he got his news writing skills on track, and was eventually promoted as field reporter. He was sent to cover the bloodiest coup d’etat against the Cory Aquino administration in December 1989.
“It was that coverage that made me realize how important and exciting it is to be a journalist. That was my first time reporting from the field because there was no reporter available. I got an on-the-spot training,” continued Baja.
As dangerous as his first assignment was, according to Baja, he fell in love with seeing history unfold before his very eyes.
Eager to share his experience with others, Baja even decided to become a news instructor at New Era College as soon as he completed his degree in Mass Communications.
“Looking back, I’m glad I was able to impart my experiences with my students who are now successful journalists and writers. Everything I taught them were first-hand experiences, and I told my students they can never find any of those in books or in formal school settings.”
Consequently, Baja cited The Manila Times College of Journalism as the only school in the country that is able to provide first-hand training, what with its students immersed in a newspaper setting.
Baja returned to ABS-CBN on October 1994 not as an electronics man but as a news writer. With his experience on the field with dzEC, he was promptly assigned to Radyo Patrol as a reporter in various beats. His first short stint was with the police beat, then Congress, and finally, Malacañang where he covered then President Fidel Ramos.
In love as ever with his job, his performance pushed him further up the news room ladder when he became desk editor and in charge of deploying reporters on what to cover.
Despite his promotion, Baja still preferred to be a field reporter if given the choice because it is the only place where he can fully utilize both skills as a writer and reporter.
“You do everything as a field reporter—you gather the data, you write the news, and report the news,” he explained. “And most of all, that’s where the action is.”
Honestly speaking, Baja said being news editor was not his cup of tea. He was used to being out there to get stories straight from the source, and suddenly felt limited stuck to the newsroom, monitoring and assigning stories, and finally editing them for broadcast.
“I almost got tired of the job,” Baja confessed. “But I also realized that the position is a mark of what I have accomplished as a journalist and the wisdom I’ve learned from my experiences in the field.”
Yet another national incident shifted Baja’s career in journalism.
“A strong earthquake struck the country in 1990, and I was the news editor assigned that night,” he recalled of the huge devastation in Luzon. “One of our broadcasters Norma Marco taped her program so I had no choice but to pitch in as anchor [since no one was on board].
“I monitored the effects of the earthquake through our field reporters and delivered them on air. Apparently, my bosses saw my potential to be an anchor and here I am today.”
According to Baja, he was a reluctant news anchor at the beginning because he never liked the quality of his voice. He was certainly no Rey Langit, Joe Taruc, or Noli de Castro, whose voices boomed with authority on the airwaves.
Even his former radio station, dzEC, offered him a job as an anchor previously, but he declined the post.
“I was content with being a field reporter, but when needed I was ready to do my part in keeping the public informed like I did during the 1990 earthquake,” Baja continued.
He realized, however, that even journalists have to grow, so that new ones can take the place of old-timers, so that his station’s motto, “To be of service to the Filipino” will always persist.
According to Baja, Dos Por Dos the radio program came at the right time in his career. Still trying to fit into his new job as an anchorman, he found the show and his tandem with Anthony Taberna the perfect vehicle to keep him motivated as a newsman.
Dos Por Dos, a commentary-cum-comedy program filled with sardonic views in a humorous format, allowed him to express his opinions on national issues based on gathering news. Somehow, he felt like a field reporter all over again, combining the two things he loves most.
There is also a different kind of action or danger in the show, just as he had savored in the field. He gets into trouble every now and then for his commentaries, but he still persists in delivering the truth.
Baja has no problem talking about the “dirty” side of journalism, which he does his best to avoid—bribes from individuals who are involved in scandals and difficult situations.
“I simply tell them that the airtime is free and if they really want their side of story heard, they don’t need to bribe me in any way,” the principled newsman related. “I joke that I receive a huge salary so I don’t need their money.”
From these instances, Baja also learned how to be tougher, strong-willed and determined stay on the side of the truth.
Thus, he never fails to remind budding journalists to think twice about getting into the business.
“I tell them this profession is not a career if you want get rich and famous—it is a calling,” Baja declared.
According to latest data from Kantar Media Radio Survey for May 2015, more listeners in Mega Manila prefer listening to the morning radio programs of Noli de Castro, Ted Failon and Gerry Baja.
Baja’s Garantisadong Balita got an average audience share of 30 percent.
Dos Por Dos has also received numerous awards including this year’s Golden Dove Award as Best Radio Public Affairs Program for Metro Manila.
For Baja, these recognitions are the bonuses of his profession.
“I am thankful for all these awards, but what compels me to do my best in my job is because I know that I can help our listeners by keeping them informed and offering them insights to think wisely,” Baja said.
Besides this, he takes public service a step further such as his newly launched Garantisang Bangka program, wherein he gives away boats made of fiberglass to fishermen in Leyte.
He is due to distribute the first set of boats with the help of the local government and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources this July and will give out another set later in the year.
When he can, he also uses a hobby of his to promote healthy living. A member of Bike for the Philippines, Baja spearheads a project where bikes are given out to students in far-flung areas so they can get to school more easily.
“We try to do what we can,” he humbly said.
When not working, Baja lives life in very simple ways. He happily stays home, cleaning the house after the mess of the family’s five dogs.
Sometimes, I also join my friends in target shooting.
He also runs a small farm in Bulacan with a piggery and poultry.
“I thought of having business on the side so I can provide a better life for my family who are my inspiration in life,” Baja said modestly. In fact, he was able to bring his family to different countries like London, Paris, USA among others.
“I have three children and two of them are graduating from college. My eldest son Gabriel is taking up Animation in St. Benilde College, while the second one Geriana is taking up Tourism in the same school. The youngest, Gerardo, is Grade 7 at De La Salle Greenhills.
My wife Ana Rosalie is also taking up Masters in Special Education,” he said in the proudest moment of this interview.
With a career he is passionate about to this very day, and a family who inspires him to always do better, Gerry Baja is content with how his life turned out. He now knows, after all, that a failed dream can actually lead to the realization of a better one.